Origin of name
The “Star of Artaban” is of Sri Lankan origin
Information about the “Star of Artaban” blue sapphire which is presently housed in the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, is very scarce, save for the fact that the 316-carat blue star sapphire is of Sri Lankan origin, as most enormous star sapphires invariably are, due to the fact that Sri Lanka is perhaps the only country in the world that produces star sapphires of enormous sizes exceeding 100 carats in weight. Attempts to get a photograph of this reportedly splendid blue star sapphire had proved to be futile and readers who may have access to any photograph of the stone are requested to upload the same at this link, in order to make this account on the famous sapphire as comprehensive as possible.
The story of Artaban, the fourth wise man
The origin of the name “Star of Artaban” is also a mystery, but appears to have been inspired by the story of the fourth wise man, the story of Artaban and his three precious jewels. According to this story Artaban was the fourth wise man from Persia, who sold all his worldly possessions and purchased three precious jewels, a blue sapphire, a red ruby and a white pearl, and set out from Persia to Babylon to meet the three wise men who were waiting for him, so that together they would travel to Israel in search of the newly born king, the promised Messiah of Israel, as foretold by the appearance of a mysterious gigantic star on the eastern skies. Artaban planned to gift the three precious jewels to his king when he had the privilege of meeting him. But on his way to Babylon, at first, Artaban voluntarily parted with the blue sapphire in return for food, lodging and medical care provided by the owner of an inn, for himself and a badly injured stranger who was robbed and beaten up by thieves, and later picked up by Artaban and safely taken to the inn in a nearby village.
Artaban parts with the second jewel, the ruby
Due to the delay caused by this incident, Artaban was not able to meet the three wise men, and he sets out on his own in search of his king. He reaches Bethlehem as he heard from the people of Israel that the new king would be born in the village of Bethlehem. But he soon comes to know that the baby king and her parents had escaped to Egypt, as King Herod had ordered the killing of all baby boys below two years of age. Soon Artaban was able to see for himself the rampaging soldiers of King Herod going from house to house in search of baby boys, to fulfill the wish of the king. The captain of the soldiers burst into a house where a young mother was holding her baby boy tightly to her chest to escape the wrath of the soldiers. As the captain was moving towards the terror-stricken woman with his sword drawn out, Artaban intervened, and offered the soldier the second precious jewel he possessed, the red ruby if he would spare the life of the woman and her baby boy. The captain accepted the offer and snatching the ruby from Artaban’s hands left the house.
Artaban parts with the third jewel, the large white pearl
Artaban then left Bethlehem and traveled to Egypt looking for his new king so that he could present the only remaining jewel, the white pearl, to his king. He reached Egypt, but could not find his new king there. For the next thirty years he travels from country to country in the whole middle-eastern region looking for his new king. Finally he heard that his king now resides in Jerusalem, and he was the kindest human being that ever lived. Artaban was now a very old man, and his greatest wish was to see the king and place the white pearl in his hand, before he died. He now walked slowly towards Jerusalem. On reaching Jerusalem he learnt that the Governor Pontius Pilate was about to kill his king by crucifying him, and decided that he would visit Pontius Pilate and plead for the release of his king by offering him the world’s largest and whitest pearl. However, on his way to see the governor, he met a group of slave sellers who were dragging a young girl who had been abducted from her parents home. The girl was screaming and appealed for Artaban’s help. The soft-hearted Artaban again decided to intervene on behalf of the poor slave-girl and barters his last possession the large white pearl in exchange for freedom for the girl from her captors.
Artaban meets his lord
Artaban who wandered for thirty years searching for his king was now old, frail, feeble, and penniless, having parted with his valuable possessions to help the needy, and not being able to achieve the goal of his life to meet his king. There he was on the streets of Jerusalem, alone and nearing his end. In his dying moments he prayed to God, and sought his forgiveness in not being able to meet him personally and hand over the three precious jewels to him. Then, Artaban heard a voice from heaven, “Oh ! Artaban, you have already given me your three precious jewels, when you gave them away to help people in need. I loved the jewels that you gave me.”
The name “Star of Artaban” perhaps inspired by this story
the above is a narrative of the fourth wise man from Persia, that perhaps might have inspired the one time owners of the large blue star sapphire from Sri Lanka, to be named the “Star of Artaban,” especially because one of the stones purchased by Artaban, to be presented to his king, was reported to be a large blue sapphire.
Characteristics of the gemstone
The “Star of Artaban” is a 316-carat enormous blue star sapphire of Sri Lankan origin presently residing in the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution. Like all star sapphires the stone is cut as a cabochon, with a centrally placed distinct star with six rays appearing on the dome-shaped face when the stone is exposed to a direct source of light such as sunlight or an artificial source of light such as a torch light or a flash light.
The cause of the blue color and asterism
All sapphires belong to the group of minerals known as corundum, which is a crystalline form of Aluminum oxide. The blue color of sapphires is caused by the replacement of some aluminum atoms in the crystal lattice by atoms of titanium and iron. The silk effect that causes the star effect is due to the presence of rutile fibres. Rutile is a form of titanium oxide. Extremely minute rutile fibres are aggregated into bundles which are then arranged in a three fold pattern at an angle of 60 degrees to one another. Light entering the stone through the dome-shaped face is reflected by these bundles, each bundle producing a sharp luminous line. The three lines intersect one another producing a six-rayed star, which glides on the surface of the stone when it is rotated from sideways.
The hardness and absolute hardness of sapphires
Sapphires have a hardness of 9 on the mohs scale, in which the maximum hardness is 10, belonging to diamond. However, the absolute hardness of sapphire is only about a quarter of that of diamond. The absolute hardness of sapphire is only 400, but that of diamond is 1,500. Yet, sapphires are hard enough and have good toughness and durability, ideal for setting in jewelry either alone or in combination with diamonds.
Challenges posed in the cutting of a star sapphire
The greatest challenge posed in the cutting of a star sapphire is to decide on the correct orientation of the stone that would bring out the maximum star effect. In rough crystals of corundum the star effect is at right angles to its vertical axis also known as the c-axis. Therefore the stone is cut en cabochon in such a way the dome shape is produced at 90 degrees to its vertical axis. But in an irregular shaped crystal locating the c-axis would be a difficult task. The traditional gem-cutters of Sri Lanka who had no knowledge of modern gemological science, were well experienced in the cutting of star sapphires, that no star sapphire was exported out of the country, without being cut and polished. Thus in all probability, the “Star of Artaban” sapphire was also cut and polished in Sri Lanka, before being sold to a foreign buyer.
History of the “Star of Artaban” sapphire
Georgia Mineral Society’s historical review provides some information on the “Star of Artaban”
Information concerning the early history of the “Star of Artaban,” such as the year of discovery of the stone in Sri Lanka, the year the stone left the shores of Sri Lanka, the persons or company that originally purchased the gemstone, the year the stone reached America and even the person who finally purchased the stone and donated it to the Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian Institution are totally lacking. However, in an article concerning the history of the Georgia Mineral Society (GMS) founded in the year 1935, and published in the website of the Society, the historical review for the period 1941-47, carries some information relevant to the “Star of Artaban.”
The relevant paragraph from this period reads as follows :- Many of the programs from 1941-43 were geared to the times, such as “Mining and Geology in War Time,” and “Russian Oil.” Field trips were confined to areas close to home. In the minutes of Dec. 1943, the following appeared. “We learned that a member of our society purchased the world’s largest sapphire, “Star of Artaban,” and has presented the stone anonymously to the National Museum in Washington.” The minutes have preserved the anonymity of the donor.
Deductions that can be made from the Dec 1943 minutes of the society
The above paragraph clearly reveals an important piece of information, viz. that the “Star of Artaban” was purchased by a member of the Georgia Mineral Society towards the end of the year 1943, and presented anonymously to the National Museum in Washington. Even the minutes of the society had preserved the anonymity of the donor. This might necessarily mean that even the authorities of the National Museum of Natural History, of the Smithsonian Institution, may not be aware of the identity of the donor of the “Star of Artaban.” However, in Richard Hughes’ book, Ruby & Sapphire, the donor of the “Star of Artaban” is identified as one Ingram, giving Desautels (1972), as reference. The book does not mention the year of presentation of the gemstone.
Another fact that emerges from the minutes of the Georgia Mineral Society, is that when the anonymous member purchased the world’s largest sapphire, the gemstone was already called the “Star of Artaban” so that the gemstone must have acquired its name long before it was purchased by the anonymous buyer. Exactly by whom and when the stone was christened as the “Star of Artaban” is not known.
The period when the rough stone was discovered in Sri lanka
Given the year the gemstone was presented to the Smithsonian Institution as 1943, we can roughly predict the period the rough stone was discovered in the alluvial deposits of the traditional gem mining district of Ratnapura, in south central, Sri Lanka. The period must have been the early part of the 20th century, when the country was still under British colonial rule. This was the same period when several large sapphires such as the “Blue Giant of the Orient,” the “Star of Bombay” and the “Bismarck Sapphire” were also discovered.
The cutting of the rough stone in Sri lanka
The rough stone was undoubtedly cut and polished in Sri Lanka, where the gem cutting and polishing industry is as old as the ancient mining industry. The country at that time could also boast of experienced gemstone cutters who could undertake the cutting of any star sapphire irrespective of its size.
The sale of the “Star of Artaban” sapphire
After the cutting of the “Star of Artaban” blue sapphire, the gemstone could have been sold to a foreign buyer in Sri Lanka itself, by one of the reputed dealers operating in the port city of Colombo, when steamers carrying foreigners en-route to the far east and Australia, called at the port of Colombo. Another possibility was that the gemstone was legally exported to the London or Paris markets by one of the reputed jewelry firms based in the city of Colombo.
Request for more information on the “Star of Artaban” blue sapphire
Readers who may have more information on the “Star of Artaban” blue sapphire are kindly requested to provide the same as comments, in order to make this web page on the famous sapphire as comprehensive as possible.
1) Ruby and Sapphire – Richard Hughes
2) GMS History 1935 – 1977 – by Georgia Montgomery, GMS Historian, 1977.
3) Ruby and Sapphire notes – University of Texas, Austin.
4) The other wise man that found the King – The Morning Leader on line, Dec 27, 2006.